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Ford Bows with Focus, Interceptor, MKR


2008 Ford Five Hundred

2008 Ford Five Hundred

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While acknowledging the serious problems facing his company, Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford insisted that with the right people and the right products, the troubled automaker will prove surprisingly resilient.

 

During an opening-day preview, at the Detroit Auto Show, of its latest cars, trucks and concepts, Ford officials took pains to present a vision of where Ford hopes to go, drawing on the help of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, whose company is launching a new technology partnership with the Detroit automaker.

 

Among the most widely-anticipated debuts was the Ford Interceptor, a hot rod-like four-door that global design czar J Mays dubbed “a modern American muscle sedan. The 400-horsepower Interceptor, he broadly hinted, “will probably influence production Fords down the road.” Company insiders say the angular look will very clearly reappear as the carmaker struggles to reverse its image of building bland products.

 

One of the most frequently-derided models, the Five Hundred sedan, debuted in updated trim, with Ford’s new CEO, Alan Mulally behind the wheel. The 2008 version of the Five Hundred will get another 60 horsepower, addressing one of the most frequent complaints about the sedan. It will also sport a new front end, liberally borrowed from the smaller and more stylish Fusion sedan.

 

There was nothing tame about the Airstream Concept, which as a longer preview on TheCarConnection.com reveals, was heavily influenced by the popular Airstream RVs, as well as the classic sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Designed by Ford’s advanced design studio, in suburban Los Angeles, the concept crossover is powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell system that can also be plugged into an AC socket to charge up its oversize battery pack. The lounge-like rear seats wrap around a 360-degree video display that can be used to do such things as show films or play video games.

 

Reading the market tea leaves, Ford is rushing to get into the fast-growing U.S. small car market. That will start with an updated version of its aging Focus subcompact. A first-ever Focus Coupe was revealed at the North American International Auto Show. Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, hinted that fuel economy will increase in the updated Focus, partly due to a 60-pound reduction in the vehicle’s weight.

 

Notably absent from the lengthy Detroit Auto Show news conference was any product bearing the Mercury badge. But North American design director Peter Horbury presented what is likely to become the new flagship for the struggling Lincoln division. The MKR sedan is expected to reappear in only slightly modified trim before decade’s end.

 

While most of the event focused on new vehicles, Ford found time to beam in Bill Gates from Las Vegas, where he was appearing at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Gates’ Microsoft and Ford are preparing to launch a new, in-car communications system, dubbed Sync, which they hope will leapfrog existing technology. Among other features, Sync will link up with Bluetooth-equipped cellphones and most MP3 players, including the iPod, built by Microsoft’s arch-rival, Apple Computers. Sync, Gates explained, will even be able to translate text messages into speech, to reduce potential distractions while driving.

 

“The market potential is absolutely enormous,” declared Fields, adding that Ford will have an exclusive on the Sync technology through the end of 2008. It will debut later this year on a dozen Ford products, including the new Focus.


 
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